Volleyball season is here and Region 9 features some real contenders to take the 3A state title this year. In the recent coaches poll, Desert Hills was picked as the favorite to win the region, with teams like Dixie, Pine View and Snow Canyon not far behind.
The following is a look at each team and the prospects for the 2016 volleyball season, with the previews in order of predicted finish for 2016:
Desert Hills received five first place votes in the Region 9 coaches preseason poll and looks to supplant Snow Canyon. The Lady Thunder made it to the semifinals of state before losing to eventual champion Morgan in last year’s playoffs.
Desert Hills also features both players that tied for Region 9 preseason player of the year. Rachel Winters and Charity Bradley split the vote. Many fans remember Winters’ dominance on the front line last year as she led the Thunder in kills. Bradley, the daughter of former NBA star Shawn Bradley, transferred from Waterford where she has garnered three all-state selections.
Winters and Bradley will captain the team along with defensive specialist Katelyn Taylor. Taylor produced 25 digs in Desert Hills final win of the season last year.
Maddi Clark will start at middle blocker while Jessica Harris will work at the other middle position.
“We are strong in every area,” said Desert Hills head coach Jill Swaney. “But our two experienced outside hitters will stand out and our defensive players have improved with the mature players we have playing those positions.”
Desert Hills finished last year with an overall record of 14-4 and finished second to Snow Canyon with an 8-2 region record. The Lady Thunder will open up their season with a home match against Enterprise on Aug. 25.
The Lady Flyers have generated some preseason buzz in Region 9 volleyball. In Stacey Leavitt’s second year since her return to the Flyer bench, Dixie hopes to improve on last year’s overall record (12-13) and exceed last year’s run into the 3A playoffs.
Dixie finished tied for third last year in Region 9 with a 5-5 record. The Flyers advanced to the 5th-6th place matchup at state, where they lost to Pine View after splitting with them during the season.
Dixie has a strong returning cast.
“Tyler Stilson is looking pretty strong right now at outside hitter,” said Leavitt. “We have DeAubrey Bowers in the middle. Brooklyn Wright and Risha Tiatia have put in the work at setters. Aspen Bair will also be strong for us this year.”
Some new names expected to make an impact his year are Grace Brown, Shaunee Jones, Ella Burrows and Lauren Beatty.
“Brown is a solid defensive player,” said Leavitt. Burrows will be a strong middle with a big block. Beatty is a strong right-side hitter and Jones is a good all-around player.”
Leavitt has been impressed with the team unity going into season play.
“It is very rare that a group comes along and they truly love each other, work hard, and would do anything for their teammates,” said Leavitt. “This alone will give them strength. They all have their own unique attributes that will make this team solid. We don’t have one good player; they are all strong.”
Dixie received one first place vote in the coaches preseason poll. The Lady Flyers were picked to finish second behind Desert Hills.
Dixie’s first two games are on the road. A road win at Richfield began the season on Aug. 18 and the Flyers travel to North Sanpete tonight. The Lady Flyers will host Spanish Fork on Aug. 25 for their first home game.
The Lady Panthers eked out Dixie in five sets to finish fifth at the state tournament last year. Coach Kelly Murdock has key pieces returning and hopes to ride that success into greater results this year.
Pine View had an overall record of 21-13 last year. In region play, PV finished 5-5 and tied Dixie for third place, splitting their season matches. Competing in a region that placed four teams in the top six last year, Pine View has the pieces to compete for the region title and have a great run into the 3A playoffs.
Returning at setter this year is Cassidy Murdock, the coach’s daughter. Cydnee McGuire is also a senior returning starter at outside hitter. Other seniors returning with valuable experience are Aubri Hendrickson, Tia Hunt, Kayleigh Sensen and Kiara Rivas.
Underclassmen that should see some extensive playing time will be juniors Addyson Mickelson and Amelia Goebel and sophomore Emily Lantor.
The Lady Panthers were picked to finish third in Region 9 in the coaches preseason poll.
Pine View will open up its season on the road at Enterprise tonight, then will host Kanab for the first home game on Sept. 1.
Snow Canyon had a dominant run that ended one game short in 2015. Coach Alaina Parker’s final season ran into a dominant Morgan team in the state championship and the 28-4 Lady Warriors had to settle for runner-up.
Gone are Coach Parker and former Utah player of the year Alexsa “Crash” Parker as well as All-Region 9 performers Shaylee Reed and Nikenna Durante, along with Sydnie Hoskins. Enter Coach Ryan Rarick. Rarick moves over from his assistant coach spot to take the reins. Despite losing several key players, Rarick believes his team’s strength is its experience.
“Our seniors have been on several teams that have made deep runs in the playoffs,” said Rarick. “A few were on the squad that won the state championship in 2014. They have been trained extremely well and know what it takes to be successful.”
Two returning starters are outside hitters Ally Dunston and Sammi Johnston.
“Our outside hitters will have the biggest impact on our success,” said Rarick. “Johnston is only a sophomore but played heavy minutes last year. I expect her to establish herself as one of the top players in the region.”
Cameron Johnson will play the setter position. Jamee Carpenter, Maddi Esplin and Cami Utley will be defensive specialists. Ina Fakahua will play opposite hitter.
New players that you will also see include sophomore Raegan Gines and transfer students Ali Burgess and Savannah North. “Gines will see a lot of action this year,” said Rarick. “She, along with Burgess and North will play the middle blocker position.”
It is never easy filling the shoes of a perennially successful coach (Can anyone remember who replaced John Wooden? Bobby Knight? Dean Smith?). But Rarick has been involved with the program and also assists in the girls basketball program. The Lady Warriors are picked to finish fourth in the Region 9 preseason poll. Expectations outside the program have diminished, but inside the program remain high.
Snow Canyon opened the season on the road with a win at Kanab Aug. 18th. The Warriors will follow that up with a visit to Union high school the following week. Their first home game will be against Canyon View on Sept. 1.
The Lady Tigers will welcome a second new head coach in as many years. Content Marshall takes over for Nicole Koehler this year. Marshall has worked with the program. Her daughter, Carrie, was one of the graduating seniors from last year.
Since winning the state championship in 2013, the program has taken a precipitous drop in Region 9 competition. Last year, the Lady Tigers finished tied for fifth with Cedar at 1-9. They failed to make the playoffs. It doesn’t help that four Region 9 teams finished in the top six at the state playoffs.
Coach Marshall hopes to reverse fortunes this year. “Our strength this year are seniors who have a lot of varsity experience,” said Marshall. “Kansas Lytle is a 3-year starter and Sierra Davis, Hollie Isom and Jaiden Smith played varsity last year.”
Marshall also believes that her players’ talents will give flexibility on what roles they will play. “Sierra Davis can set and hit the ball equally well,” said Marshall. “There are a few others that are also versatile enough to play different spots.”
While still defining and refining their roles, Marshall will start out with Lytle, Davis and junior Jeanette Cram at the hitter positions. Davis will also set along with sophomores Hailey Homer and Alexa Christensen. Smith and Alexa Christensen will play the middle blocker position. Holly Isom will play the libero.
Hurricane is picked to finish fifth this year in Region 9 in the preseason coaches poll. The Lady Tigers opened up the season last Tuesday with a loss to Canyon View. They also lost to Panguitch last Thursday night.
The Lady Reds have struggled in the ultra-competitive Region 9. While all the other teams in the region have gone to the playoffs at least once the last few years, Cedar has yet to break through to the top four. Second-year coach Nicole Anglin is hoping that the team’s improved athleticism will make inroads into that area.
The Lady Reds also return Kylee Field and Katelyn Armstrong. “Both have become consistently better hitters during the offseason,” said Anglin. “Katelyn has stepped into the role of being a vocal leader to the younger girls. Kylee has helped out as a player-coach, teaching the game where needed and being positive on the court.”
Cedar also has a senior transfer student, Kyley Beatty, who has shown early that she will be both good on the attack and on defense. Denim Henkel is expected to be the primary setter.
Cedar began the year 8-4 but struggled once region play began. They finished 1-9, in a tie with Hurricane for fifth place. This year they have been picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“Our team is young,” said Anglin. “But we are talented and versatile and we have good leadership this year.”
The Lady Reds will open up the season at Millard tonight. They will play at crosstown rival Canyon View the following week. They will host Juab in their first home match on September 1.
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